POINT SHOOTING, FACT OR FALLACY?

 Instinctive Shooting, or “point” shooting, has been a subject of debate for many years, with strong personalities voicing opinions on both sides of the issue. Those who support “point” shooting, and those who don’t, each have large amounts of “documented” evidence supporting their position.  However, when distilled down, it is always anecdotal. An investigator into the validity of the technique is left to make his or her own decision based on their individual experience and/or the position of the shooting instructor who has most influenced their technique.

In the reality of combat shooting, there are two main philosophies, “Instinctive Shooting” and “Sighted Fire”. In times past, one philosophy has enjoyed more prominence than the other, but this has always gone back and forth. For instance, in the case of the author, a full-circle evolution occurred, starting with a strong belief in sighted fire, followed by a movement to instinctive shooting techniques, followed by a return to the dynamics of sighted fire.

In order to determine whether or not “point” shooting is a valid technique, one must look beyond the voluminous anecdotal evidence both for and against it. The Firearms Training Unit of the Ogden Police Department decided to undertake a project to determine the efficacy of the technique. The project became an attempt to use as scientific a method as possible, though it admittedly contains imperfections, to determine whether or not there is any efficacy in “point” shooting as a combat technique. The testing protocol was designed to determine, first, whether or not instinctive shooting is truly instinctive, second, if it is more effective under combat conditions, and, third, if it is a valid technique can it be trained independently of sighted fire.

Sources:

An extensive literature source review was undertaken, followed by the design of testing protocols. Literature sources consisted of a variety of shooting magazine articles, books and lectures. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from both sides of the discussion were interviewed and many supplied additional source information. Many of the source contacts resulted in additional contacts being made or documents being reviewed.

Protocol Design Assumptions:

The team designed testing protocols based on some assumptions taken from among the source review. The assumptions were;

1. Sights do not matter. This was based on statements included in all source reviews and discussions, which are pro “point” shooting, that police officers will not see their sights due to the extreme physiological and psychological impact of sudden life-endangering threat and, therefore, should train to shoot without the sights. This was also based on the proposition that the majority, above 80% according to FBI statistics, of police shootings take place at ranges less than 21 feet (though it was also decided to include longer ranges as the 20% of shootings taking place at further than 21 feet are still significant and there is also some data indicating that distances are starting to increase as better tactics and situational awareness are applied through police training). Proponents of “point” shooting believe that those are distances at which sighting shouldn’t matter. Several of the sources also stated that, within that range, “point” shooting could be precision shooting.

2. Sighted fire is slower than “point” shooting. Stated as fact by sources, this appeared to be a valid assumption in that pointing the sidearm, without worrying about sighting, should be faster than sighting.

3. “Point” shooting can be trained. If, in fact, point shooting is a valid technique, then the technique should be capable of being trained from the beginning and teaching sighted fire first is unnecessary. One point of note, is the fact that all the proponents/SMEs of “point” shooting are highly experienced shooters who shoot regularly, substantially more than the police officers they propose should be trained in this technique. It is also of note that several of the SMEs for “sighted fire” stated that they had seen their sights during street shootings, that the so-called rule that officers won’t see their sights during a gunfight didn’t apply to them, for whatever reason. Method:

Targets for flat range drills were B-21 targets consistent with the department’s qualification standard. Targets for the practical events consisted of a “pepper popper” with a manufactured frame from which clothing could be hung and a cut out face could be placed, effectively simulating a person. Accuracy was measured by hits within the shaded “8 ring” of the of the B-21 target and the knocking down of the pepper popper. Time to firing for first round and time between rounds was measured/recorded using a PACT timer.

In order to unify the technique, a review of the literature and discussion with SMEs resulted in selection of a “standardized” point” shooting technique, consisting of an isosceles stance, arms extended, weapon centered and at chin-to-lips level, where the shooter is looking over the weapon at the target and the weapon is in the lower peripheral vision of the shooter. This happened to be the technique that all of the “point” shooters for the testing were using. Another point of note was that some of the SMEs referred to a technique known as “flash sight picture”. In the discussions with SMEs, “flash sight picture” came up a few times as a “point” shooting technique, however, it was decided for this test that “flash sight picture” is a sighted fire technique as it requires acknowledgement of the front sight, some aligning of the two sights, and placing of the front sight on the target.

Originally planned with eight shooters, one had to cancel on the range day and so the testing took place with four sighted-fire style shooters and three point shooters. All of the shooters were experienced, highly skilled shooters who are current or past firearms instructors. Several of the shooters were experienced in police shootings and some had military combat experience as well. Two of the three of the “point” shooters had extensive military special operations experience, including one who is a past member of 1st SFOD Delta. One of the “sighted-fire” shooters is a past firearms and tactics instructor at the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center.

A series of events were developed, consisting of flat range events and situational shooting events. Drills 1 through 8 were flat range events, 9 and 10 were situational events. The flat range events were designed to determine baseline skills for each group of shooters and then subject them to varying conditions consistent with both range shooting and officer-involved “street” shootings. Once the baseline drills were completed, each set of shooters were then required to shoot the same events utilizing weapons that had the sights removed. Based on the assumptions previously listed, it was expected that “point” shooters scores and times would not be significantly altered, since they supposedly weren’t using the sights anyway, therefore, the lack of sights would be immaterial. It was also expected that the “sighted-fire” shooters would have significant drops in scores as the lack of sights would greatly impact their ability to accurately engage targets.

The flat range events included timed draw and firing of two rounds at the 3, 5, 7, 10 and 15 yard lines, precision draw to fire (one round in the head) from the 5 and 7 yard lines, executing right and left turns while drawing and engaging, moving forward and backward to and from the targets while engaging, and moving obliquely to the target while engaging. The situational events consisted of two stress-based scenarios that were “street” related. The first was a suspicious person call where the officer exited a vehicle and approached a subject to conduct a field interview and then return to the police vehicle. The target was a pepper popper raised to normal height, clothed and with a face on it. The engagement could occur at any time during the process. The vehicle was positioned so that the exit point from the vehicle was 10 yards from the target.

The second event was a simulated foot pursuit where the officer ran 100 yards and then began searching through obstacles looking for the subject they had been pursuing. During the search, a moving target crossed the view of the officer. The distance from the officer to the target varied depending on where the officer was in the search process when the target began moving, anywhere from 12 yards to 3 yards.

In order to raise the individual stress level of the officers to a point simulating real conditions with physiological and psychological impact on shooting ability, the S.W.A.T. team’s armored Suburban was placed next to the area of the situational event targets. Inside the vehicle was an officer with a marking round carbine that fires a projectile at a velocity that is know to elicit significant pain. The signal for the officer to take action was when the officer was engaged by the threat target. The officers were not allowed to wear any protective gear other than eyeglass style eye protection and hearing protection.

Prior to the start of the flat range testing, each shooter was subjected to a measuring of their pulse, respiration rate and blood pressure, in order to determine a “stress” baseline for each shooter. Prior to the start of the events testing (Day 2), each shooter was shot in the back of the thigh, from a distance of 5 feet, with the marking round weapon. Each
shooter was also instructed that they were not to engage the target as a threat until the shooter was engaged. Each shooter then ran each drill three times, with two of the drills being benign and one being an engagement. This created a great deal of additional stress as the shooter did not know which of the iterations would result in an engagement.

Immediately after being engaged in a shooting, each shooter then went directly to a prepared station where an EMT again measured their pulse, respiration rate and blood pressure. The results were then compared with the baselines taken the previous day to determine if the shooter was stressed by the engagement.

The last event was a training event. Six civilians with no or extremely little pistol shooting training or experience were given a 4-hour block of training in shooting a pistol at a distance of 7 yards from a target. The training was mostly static, with one drill being shooting while moving toward the target and another of engaging the target after a left or right turn. Three of the persons were trained by two of the sighted-fire shooters, in the traditional techniques of sighted-fire instruction, three of the persons were trained by two of the “point” shooters utilizing “point” shooting techniques. For the “point” shooting students, the sights had been removed from the weapons.

Results: Flat Range Drills

In the static baseline flat range drills (draw, fire 2 rounds, ranges 3-15 yards) sighted fire shooters averaged 2.03 seconds from draw to first shot, .30 seconds split time to second shot, 2.33 seconds overall, with an 88% accuracy rate. Point shooters averaged1.63 seconds from draw to first shot, .28 seconds split time to second shot, 1.91 seconds overall, with a 73% accuracy rate. Point shooters shot an average of .42 seconds faster with 15% less accuracy. It should also be noted that there was no difference in accuracy between sighted-fire and point shooters at the 3 and 5-yd. line. At the 7 yard line, the grouping of the “point” shooters was significantly larger than the sighted fire shooters, at the 10 and 15 yard lines “point” shooter accuracy was greatly reduced. At the 7 and 10 yd. lines, the sighted fire shooters maintained 100% accuracy, dropping their accuracy at the 15 yard line.

In the precision shooting drill (7 yard line, from the “ready”, one round to the head of the target), sighted fire shooters averaged 1.87 seconds with 91.5% accuracy. Point shooters averaged 1.62 seconds with a 44% accuracy rate. Point shooters shot .25 seconds faster with 47.5 % less accuracy.

In the moving forward drill (while moving from the 7-yard line, draw at the “buzzer” and engage with 2 rounds), sighted fire shooters averaged 2.03 seconds with 100% accuracy. Point shooters averaged 1.81 seconds with 83% accuracy. Point shooters shot .22 seconds faster with 17% less accuracy.

In the moving obliquely drill, moving right to left, sighted fire shooters averaged 2.0 seconds with a 100% accuracy rate. Point shooters averaged 1.77 seconds with 83% accuracy. Point shooters shot .23 seconds faster with 17% less accuracy.

In the moving obliquely drill, moving left to right, sighted fire shooters averaged 2.13 seconds with 100% accuracy. Point shooters averaged 2.06 seconds with 100% accuracy. Point shooters shot .07 seconds faster with equal accuracy.

An interesting phenomena occurred when the sights were removed from the weapons and the shooters were run through the same drills. Without sights on their weapons, “point” shooters shot faster than their baseline times. The only reason that could be determined for this was that something had changed in their technique. As a result of the testing, it became apparent that the “point” shooters were using their sights more than they thought.
An ensuing discussion resulted in the opinion of all the shooters that the “point” shooters were actually aligning their sights without consciously recognizing that they were doing so, whereas the “sighted-fire” shooters were very consciously using their sights. This was also the reason why, when sights were removed, shooters shot faster as well. Overall, without sights, the “sighted-fire” shooters had a slightly higher accuracy rate than the “point” shooters.

In the baseline drills, sighted-fire shooters, with sights removed from their weapons, averaged 1.98 seconds and a 55% accuracy rate. Sighted-fire shooters shot .35 seconds faster with a 33% reduction in accuracy from their baseline scores. Point shooters, with sights removed from their weapons, averaged 1.74 seconds with a 70% accuracy rate. Point shooters shot .17 seconds faster, with a 3% reduction in accuracy from their base scores.

In the precision shooting drill (7 yard line, from the “ready”, one round to the head of the target), sighted fire shooters averaged 1.76 seconds with 72% accuracy, .11 seconds faster with 19.5% reduction in accuracy. Point shooters averaged 1.58 seconds with a 38% accuracy rate, .04 seconds faster with a 6% reduction in accuracy.

In the moving forward drill (while moving from the 7-yard line, draw at the “buzzer” and engage with 2 rounds), sighted fire shooters with sights removed averaged 1.89 seconds with an 87% accuracy rate, .14 seconds faster with a 13% reduction in accuracy. Point shooters with sights removed averaged 1.81 seconds with a 100% accuracy rate, same speed with a 17% increase in accuracy.

In the moving obliquely drill, moving right to left, sighted fire shooters with sights removed averaged 1.90 seconds with 87% accuracy, .10 seconds faster with a 13% decrease in accuracy. Point shooters with sights removed averaged 1.90 seconds with an 83% accuracy rate, .13 seconds slower with no change in accuracy.

In the moving obliquely drill, moving left to right, sighted fire shooters with sights removed averaged 2.01 seconds with 75% accuracy, .12 seconds faster with a 25% drop in accuracy. Point shooters with sights removed averaged 1.77 seconds with a 50% accuracy rate, .29 seconds faster with a 50% reduction in accuracy.

Results: Situational Drills

The results of the vital statistics measurement comparisons showed that the shooters were under significant stress. The baseline pulse rates ranged from 54 to 72 beats per minute (bpm). The post-engagement pulse rates all exceeded 124 bpm with the highest being 168. Respiration ranged from 12-15 breaths per minute baseline and 18-24 post engagement. On average, blood pressure increased 29% (systolic and diastolic combined)
from baseline to post-engagement. It was believed by the shooters, several of whom have experienced real shooting events, that the stress felt during the drills was similar to the stress of real events and was probably as close as one could get during testing of this sort.

In the first event, the suspicious person interview, accuracy was measured by the number of hits versus the number of rounds fired. Time was not measured as the shooters were in a variety of positions and distances relative to the target when they were engaged. All shooters exhibited a very aggressive posture when engaged, all of them driving on the target, once engaged, and firing until the target was down. None of the shooters elected to try to use the police car as cover. The “sighted-fire” shooters averaged 6 rounds fired on the target with a 96% hit rate. The “point” shooters averaged 7 rounds fired on the target with an 84% hit rate. Interestingly enough, the misses by all shooters were in the first and/or second rounds, as they advanced closer to the target they had no misses. Also of note was the fact that none of the shooters, “sighted-fire” or “point” reported seeing their sights during the engagement, reporting instead that they were “focused” on the target.

In the second event, the pursuit scenario, accuracy was measured by the number of hits versus rounds fired. Again, time was not measured due to the differences in distance and position of the shooters. All shooters exhibited an aggressive posture with none using obstacles as cover and all driving on the target, even as it continued moving. The “sighted-fire” shooters averaged 7 rounds fired with 87% accuracy. The “point” shooters averaged 9 rounds with 68% accuracy. Again, none of the shooters reported seeing their sights, two of the “sighted-fire” shooters reported recognizing that their weapon was generally aligned with the target.

In the training event, the “sighted-fire” trainees, after the first hour of training began achieving consistency in their technique and their accuracy, including through the turning and advancing phases. By the end of the 4 hours, all the trainees were able to successfully pass a simple qualification course. The “point” shooting trainees, with sights removed from their weapons, were unable to achieve consistency in their shooting. Additionally, they began to express frustration with their inability to get comfortable with the technique. At the end of the 4 hours of training, only one trainee could pass the simple qualification course.

CONCLUSIONS:

Based on the two days of testing, the Firearms Training Unit concluded the following;

In regards to the assumptions, Assumption 1, Sights don’t matter, the assumption was false. Clearly, sights do matter, even to so-called “point” shooters. What was determined was that an emphasis on “point” shooting techniques results in a lower overall accuracy rate than stressing “sighted-fire”.

Assumption 2, “Sighted-fire” is slower than “point” shooting, is true. As seen in the testing, “sighted-fire” shooters are slower than “point” shooters. Speed in a shooting is critical, but only if the target is being hit. In balancing the desire for speed with accuracy, the “sighted-fire” shooters performed better, particularly in the stress scenarios. As Wyatt Earp once said “fast is fine, but accuracy is final.”

Assumption 3, “Point” shooting can be trained as a stand alone technique, is false. This was determined to be one of those “you can’t get there from here” conundrums. To get to an ability to not have to consciously focus on sights, one must get very good at using sights as part of the complete shooting technique. During the source review, several top competitive shooters were interviewed. They scoffed at the idea of not needing sights, but also admitted that when they are shooting well they are shooting more by “feel” than by any conscious focus on sights. Several admitted that they don’t always “see” the sights, particularly at the closer ranges, however, that doesn’t mean they aren’t using them. They also did say that their conscious use of the sights increased as the range to the targets increased and the need for accuracy became greater.

A glaring lack in the testing, and one that will be tested in the near future, is “point” shooting versus “sighted-fire” in a low light environment. It is believed by the shooters and trainers that low light will exacerbate the loss of accuracy of both techniques, however, only testing will verify whether or not that is true.

IMPACT ON FUTURE FIREARMS TRAINING:

It is a given that the study was biased toward experienced, highly skilled shooters and that these are not the rule in police departments. It is well known and documented that the average police officer shoots only when the department makes him/her go to the range, they shoot only as many rounds as they are given, and they only clean their weapon if it is inspected. The discussion, as a side result of the project, was whether or not the project identified needed changes to the standard department training events. It was agreed that there were.

The first was that the balance between speed and accuracy needed to be adjusted, that officers needed to be trained to shoot faster without a loss in accuracy. It was also decided that teaching officers not to worry about the sights was counter-productive to the need for accuracy. A compromise to a “flash sight picture” at 5-yards and closer was decided upon, with “sighted-fire” still being stressed as ranges increased. The second was that the flat range style of training and qualification needed to be de-emphasized, with the emphasis shifting to scenario-based training where the officers and the targets are moving, even at close ranges.

The third was that a component of firearms range training needs to be scenario-based force-on-force style training with marking round firearms. The best way to increase accuracy in shootings is to inoculate the shooters to the effects of stress on their ability to apply their marksmanship skills.

The fourth was that more regular amounts of range training, using less rounds or time, is better than a large amount of rounds shot infrequently. The Firearms Unit is in the process of trying to implement these changes.

Not all proponents of “point” shooting will agree with the validity of the testing conducted. Undoubtedly, the publishing of this article will incite vociferous opposition from some. So be it. For the Ogden Police Department, “point” shooting is a fallacy, but it did help us to better understand the shooting environment and adapt our training to be as realistic as possible.

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Retired Military and Law Enforcement, Author and current business owner of 1st Responders Tactical and Safety Training. Providing updated training and consultations to both the first responders community and the civilian community. Certified evaluator/instructor for Defensive Tactics, ASP, Firearms, Vehicle operations, Advanced Taser & Taser X26, Chemical munitions, less-lethal, flash bang and Aerosol certification. Basic submachine gun certification and Basic SWAT school certification. Retired SFC/E-7 after 21 Years of military service with the United States Army, Military Police Corps, and 24 months in Afghanistan in support of combat operations during Operation Enduring Freedom.

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